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Oral contraceptives are associated with non-contraceptive benefits (including reduced menstrual blood loss, fewer menstruation-associated symptoms, and a lower risk of ovarian cysts and certain types of cancer. A recent study offers the odds of developing cancer of various types.

A recent study from the United Kingdom looked at 23,000 ever-users of oral contraceptives (OC), and 23,000 who had not used the drugs.  Researchers enrolled women into the study between 1968 and 1969. They then analyzed subsequent cancer diagnosis and risk factors (such as smoking, social class, parity, and medical history).

Women who had a history of OC use had a 4 percent lower risk of cancer overall. This included a 19 percent lower risk of colon or rectal cancer, 34 percent lower risk of uterus cancer, 33 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer, and 4 percent higher risk of breast cancer, and a 26 percent lower risk of lymphatic/blood cancer. Other findings included: Cancer risk increased with age and smoking in both groups; current or recent (less than 5 years) uses or oral contraceptives (OC) had a higher risk of cancer in general (odds 1.28-times higher), breast cancer (1.48-fold increase), and cancer of the cervix (2.32-times higher). This increase in cancer risk disappeared for those with more than 5 years since last use. The decrease in uterus and ovary cancer was seen in both recent and past uses, and the protective effect was still present among those with more than 35 years since last use.

There are many contraceptive options. When individual decisions and recommendations are made, the contraceptive risks and benefits should be discussed with the potential user. I’m Dr Michael Hunter.